I’m working right now with Nonprofit Connect on a project to address some of the issues that nonprofit leaders in the Kansas City area (and around Kansas and Missouri, to some extent) identify as some of their barriers to engaging in advocacy. The project includes providing some training, because lack of information and skills continues to make it harder for nonprofit executives to competently steer their organizations toward advocacy success, but both nonprofit participants and the folks at Nonprofit Connect are very clear that it has to go beyond that. Advocacy teaches us, early on, that information alone seldom changes minds, or lives.
And, in another lesson borrowed from advocacy work itself, we’re starting the project by listening to those who will participate in it–nonprofit leaders and would-be advocates–to help them think through the gaps and complications that currently separate them from the advocacy work that we (and, increasingly, they) know they need to be doing.
In my work during this phase of the project, I was glad to find the Listening Post, an effort by Johns Hopkins University to do much the same thing, on a broader scale: listen to nonprofit organizations and intermediary institutions, in order to better understand the forces impacting the work of nonprofits, and to better identify missing pieces that could make a real difference.
This particular Listening Post Comuniqué relates to nonprofit organizations and advocacy. What’s especially helpful about it is how it skips over the obvious–nonprofit organizations wish they had more money with which to conduct advocacy–and focuses instead of how nonprofit leaders can do more with the resources they do have, as well as some consideration of interventions that would actually create more resources.
I haven’t decided if it’s disheartening or encouraging that many of the barriers identified–reluctance on the part of Board members, resistance by donors, difficulty involving clients/patrons, lack of understanding about policy change, and the need for better outcomes and definition of ‘success’–are many of the same themes that I spend a lot of time talking about here.
There were a couple of new insights that I intend to carry into this work with nonprofits in the Kansas City area:
At the Philanthropy Midwest Conference last week, we began a more systematic process of bridging some of these gaps, in order to provide nonprofit leaders with the tools they need to step boldly, and well, into the advocacy struggles where we so need their presence.
And, having listened to our collective articulations of precisely what those barriers are, our local sector will then also be able to hold ourselves accountable if we still fail to act with the determination, vision, and courage that these times, and the challenges we face, demand.
We’re in the Heartland, after all.
The buck stops here.